Product pages are meat and potatoes to the online copywriter.
It's an interesting challenge (honestly) to describe 500 products in a way that matches the client's tone of voice, works on all the necessary platforms, doesn't break the template, and actually helps the customer to make a selection.
Perhaps the most difficult part comes when you're faced with a number of very similar products that nonetheless need separate product pages.
The same, but different
So how can you differentiate products that have very similar technical features?
One trick is to prioritise. The best feature of one phone might be its camera, so you could choose to put that first. This is another rule you can build into your format – identify a hero feature for each product that's always the first one listed.
This won't always be possible, because you might want to list features in a specific order that is consistent across a product range. In describing laptops, for instance, you might begin with screen size and then move on to processor speed and RAM in that order. In that case you'll need to make the distinction elsewhere in your copy.
Tell a different story
Very similar products might still have different audiences or use cases, and that can be a source of useful variation for you. I like to use the example of a bicycle computer with built-in GPS. Here are two stories about how it could be used:
- Find the best route to work – you can even choose to avoid major roads (and hills...)
- Track your development through the season – plan and record training distances, times and climbing stats.
You could plausibly use these different, benefit-led scenarios to describe very similar products: one aimed at commuters and the other at sports cyclists.
The same goes for trainers. Runners, for instance, might be looking for a pair of pumps that are light and flexible, whereas tennis players are probably going to be looking for something that gives them grip and stability on the court.
ASICS is one brand that tailors the language and benefits of each product description to reflect the needs of its different consumer groups:
If you're going to address different audiences, use any audience segmentation you can get your hands on as a starting point for some basic user personas and see if there's a way to subdivide products accordingly. This kind of digging into your audience's needs and journeys is always helpful.
Formats are your friend
To get started, you need to discover which elements are the same or similar from product to product, and which can vary. Both types of elements need rules.
So break the product page down into its constituent parts and lay down rules for how to document both the matching elements and the variations. Crucially these rules are guidance on both form and content – such as, for instance, that a strapline should mention the product's main use and should also be under 50 characters in length.
Creating modular content formats like this gives you the chance to think ahead about where your content will appear – web, mobile, tablet… Content that's organised into clearly defined elements is easier to publish, localise and adapt for new platforms, making content governance smoother further down the line.
Standard points for standard features
Very often you'll find that description of a product consists of a short introduction followed by a list of features. If features are the same or very similar across more than one product, describe them in the same way. Because if you don’t you’ll create reader confusion. Readers may think the products are a little different from each other in a way they don't understand.
Remember that product pages are typically serving people in the comparison-shopping stage of their journey – that's why retailers have ‘add to wish list’ or ‘save for later’ buttons as well as the ‘add to basket’ button for people who are ready to buy. Since they're trying to compare products, it's in your best interest to help them do that and push them further down the sales funnel.
Popular e-tailers like Currys include an overview section for all of their products, so that users can quickly compare the main features of various brands of cameras, for instance.
If you find you have a standard set of features, include rules for how to write each feature in the guidelines for your content format.
Dealing with third-party content
If you're creating content for a retailer, the source material for product descriptions will often come from manufacturers – so you will have as many lengths, styles, formats and tones of voice as you have manufacturers.
Your task then is to rework this copy into the right tone of voice for the retail site you're publishing on – not just for branding purposes, but to make your content unique.
You're going to need clear guidelines for tone of voice and execution guidelines for your content formats, including plenty of examples.
In summary: automate what you can but leave room for flair
Your overall aim is to create a set of simple, rules for each product page that leave room for creativity while freeing up the writer from having to think about structural basics such as how long a heading should be or how many features should appear in a list.
Designing a good underlying structure for your product pages doesn't just make production more efficient. It also results in consistent content that makes it easy for readers to compare, decide, and, ultimately, to buy.